The contraceptive sponge a barrier method of birth control that stops sperm from entering the cervix by covering the cervix snugly.
A contraceptive sponge works very well when once in place and all instructions are followed carefully. Each sponge is only used once, then thrown out.
Contraceptive sponges can also have an unacceptably high failure rate and interfere with sexual pleasure in women, so aren’t the most popular birth control available. The sponges can be hard to remove, and have to be left in after sex for six hours to work.
Effectiveness of the contraceptive sponge
When used correctly, sponges can provide 100 per cent prevention against pregnancy, however human error reduces this rate right down to between 67 and 91 per cent effectiveness.
This failure rate is quite high if you are trying not to get pregnant, so perhaps think over your options unless you are sure of your ability to use the sponge correctly, or have no other options.
Why contraceptive sponges are great
Contraceptive sponges offer women a way to prevent pregnancy in an invisible manner, since men can’t feel the sponge on their penis during sex.
This gives women quiet control over their fertility. Sponges can be inserted up to 30 hours before sex, meaning you can prepare well in advance for sex.
Another benefit of the contraceptive sponge is that it can block period blood flow for a little while. This means you can have sex during your period without the mess.
Why contraceptive sponges can be bad
Contraceptive sponges may reduce sexual sensation around the cervix and high vagina, which can reduce pleasure and orgasm or women during penetration.
Contraceptive sponges do not protect you from bacteria, fungi, viruses or parasites your partner may introduce to your vagina (STIs). Some women are sensitive or allergic to the spermicides used in commercial contraceptive sponges.
Leaving a sponge in for too long can contribute to vaginal infections, so make sure to monitor your use.
Natural sea sponges
Natural sea sponges are an ocean organism that is dried and sold as bathing sponges. Sea sponges come disinfected, dried and stiff, but they soften when run under clean water. Then squeeze out, and insert the correctly-sized sea sponge deeply into the vagina.
Pharmaceutical contraceptive sponges
There are a few pharmaceutical brands of contraceptive sponges available. Pharmaceutical brands contain spermicide.
Brands of contraceptive sponges:
- Pharmatex (France, Quebec in Canada)
- Protetcaid (rest of Canada, Europe)
- Today (United States)
Using contraceptive sponges
Natural sea sponge
Buy natural sea sponge from a pharmacy or department store, ensuring it is labelled ‘natural sea sponge’, and is not synthetic. Sea sponges for bathing are quite big, as they are intended to be used in the shower, so you’ll need to cut the sponge up.
Cut the sponge with a pair of scissors into pieces about the size of two golf balls. When you want to use the contraceptive sponge, get it wet then squeeze it out, squat down and push it right up to your cervix.
Leave the sponge in for six hours after sexfor best contraceptive effect.
Getting contraceptive sponges out is sometimes tricky. Squat and bear down until you can grab a little corner, then gently and slowly pull until the whole thing comes sliding on out.
You may want to wet or lube up your fingers prior to trying to get the sponge out, as it may take a few minutes. If you can’t get the contraceptive sponge out, don’t panic – just wait for a while and try again. Your natural vaginal fluids will soften the sponge and it will become a little more pliable.
If you are really having trouble getting a contraceptive sponge out of your vagina, you can visit your local sexual health clinic, doctor or emergency room, and a nurse will quickly be able to pull it out and send you on your way.
Natural sea sponge is a type of plant from the sea, so if you are conscious of your environmental impact, you may prefer another contraceptive option or to do your own research.
Pharmaceutical brands of contraceptive sponge
Today is the only brand that requires wetting – around two tablespoons of water – while Protectaid and Pharmatex are ready to use out of the pack.
All pharmaceutical brands of contraceptive sponge can be inserted up to 24 hours before sex, and left in place for at least six hours after sex. This is to allow the semen to drip out via gravity, keeping the cervix blocked off for any runaways.
Verdict on the contraceptive sponge?
The contraceptive sponge is good, but not great. Natural sea sponges without spermicide are a great way to enjoy blood-free period sex, and if you are familiar with your vagina and are comfortable using a sponge for contraception, they will certainly do the job.
Usability remains the biggest issue with contraceptive sponge use, with getting them out in fact the biggest issue you will face.
Natural sea sponges – a more natural option of birth control
If you want a natural birth control method that is effective, the natural sea sponges can work a charm. Natural sea sponges are one of earth’s oldest single-cell organisms, living in the sea. Humans have been bathing with them for a long time.
Because sea sponges are made up of natural fibres, they are not typically allergenic (but that does not mean you can’t have an allergy to it). Sea sponges are also renewable, but most sea sponges are harvested off the sea floor either by a diver or a hook.
If enough of the sea sponge is left behind, it will regenerate itself about a third of the time, which is ok, but not great – it means that two thirds of the sponge harvested from the wild do not grow back, robbing the environment of a water cleansing organism.
Harvesting sea sponges takes manual labour and resources from the sea, so buying farmed sea sponges is better than wild-harvested sea sponges. Sea sponges filter seawater, and are a beautiful and critical part of our seas, so be thoughtful of your source.
Natural sea sponges break down without issue in the environment, so in terms of waste, degrade easily as it is plant-based material. Creating a sea sponge that you can put inside your vagina also produces very little waste and does not require chemicals.
Sea sponges are not endangered and do not have a nervous system.